Epigenetic modifications are highlighted for their great importance in regulating plant development, but their function associated with single-cell differentiation remains undetermined. Here, we used the cotton fibre, which is the epidermal hair on the cotton ovule, as a model to investigate the regulatory role of DNA methylation in cell differentiation. The level of CHH (H = A, T, or C) DNA methylation level was found to increase during fibre development, accompanied by a decrease in RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM). Examination of nucleosome positioning revealed a gradual transition from euchromatin to heterochromatin for chromatin dynamics in developing fibres, which could shape the DNA methylation landscape. The observed increase in DNA methylation in fibres, compared with other ovule tissue, was demonstrated to be mediated predominantly by an active H3K9me2-dependent pathway rather than the RdDM pathway, which was inactive. Furthermore, integrated multi-omics analyses revealed that dynamic DNA methylation played a role in the regulation of lipid biosynthesis and spatio-temporal modulation of reactive oxygen species during fibre differentiation. Our study illustrates two divergent pathways mediating a continuous increase of DNA methylation and also sheds further light on the epigenetic basis for single-cell differentiation in plants. These data and analyses are made available to the wider research community through a comprehensive web portal.
© The Author(s) 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.